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1998: This is Hardcore

Hermione shrugged, and it was as if something cold had

taken her over. This was it, her get-out clause, her way of

saying goodbye: by making me hate her. She rose, her small

breasts still floating; did I really want to see them droop,

watch the nursing veins spread from her nipples like Danish

blue, to wither and dry and wrinkle? I rose too, went to the

window naked, took a can of beer and opened it. Herm pulled

on her panties (chosen for me) and looked for her bra. The

silence was deadly. I broke it. “When’s Tony back?”

“Tomorrow. Early.”

“So this is it, then.”

“I suppose it is. I should get home –”

“For Tony.” Giving up on her bra, Hermione pulled on my

old t-shirt. “Do you want to know something, Herm?

Remember that time, back at the squat, when we were so

close to kissing? You wouldn’t, then, because of Tony. And do

you know what he was doing? Fucking Becky.”

Hermione’s pale eyes filled with hurt; I watched with sad

fascination as her pain shone through.


“No Herm, why bother? Why lie, now? What would I



“On who?”

“Becky, Joe. She ran from you and you want to hurt her.

Don’t you? So you spoil her to her best friend.”

When I shrugged angrily Hermione went to the bathroom.

She came back seeming happier, resolved; decisions had been

made. Herm always stuck to her decisions. She even kissed

me and called in a Chinese while I went to buy candles with

her money. After we’d eaten we made love again, sadly,

without fury, and after I plopped outside of her she hopped

out of bed. It was cold; pulling on my boxers and t-shirt she

started rooting through her bag.

In order to reinforce her Irishness Hermione practised the

penny whistle. She propped her music book up against the

windowsill and tootled some interminable reel, while behind

her I shivered and pulled the duvet to my neck like a virgin

bride, watching her frightened rabbit eyes reflect off the still steamed


I once saw an episode of Star Trek where the bald Yorkie

captain is zapped away from his ship without warning to an

alien planet where no-one believes who he is. In the end he

marries, settles down, has a huge family, and lives quite

happily for hundreds of years. He even learns to play the

flute. But at the moment of his death he’s zapped back to The

Enterprise, where only twenty minutes have passed since he

was spirited away. In order to prove to himself he hasn’t gone

completely insane, he picks up a flute. The final shot shows

him playing a sad tune as he stands at a window looking out

at the vast emptiness and the stars.

In that moment Hermione looked the same – wearing my

old t-shirt and boxers, her hair unkempt – looking out of the

window at the baleful moon, the indifferent night, and I

wondered if the episode was a metaphor for a novel, in which

a whole life could be lived in a day; or perhaps life as a novel

joke, your death the predictable punch line.

I called to her from the bed. “Can you play A Day in the


Herm stopped playing and looked at me in the glass. Or

perhaps she wasn’t looking at me, seeing the candles glitter

all around the bed, but at herself, her glittering city, our

melancholy universe.


“‘Somebody spoke and I went into a dream.’ Put it on my

tombstone, will you, Herm?”

Hermione gave me a stern look through her tear-filled eyes

of blue, then began to play as she had once sang to her father,

drifting back to her ancestral heritage, where familial spirits

danced in steaming marshes full of bones.


*This is an extract of “Fire Horses” by M L Piggott.

“Fire Horses”: synopsis and quotes

“Fire Horses”: buy it here

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